How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Dear How to Do It,
My long-term and loving boyfriend (37) and I (43-year-old woman) had our first threesome last night. This brought to reality a fantasy that we had been discussing and planning for a long time, as we started to dip our toes into the lifestyle. We spent months talking about our rules, expectations, and hopes. While out of town, we connected with a great woman who went out for ice cream with us and then went back to our place—where, after things got started, my guy changed the plans with no discussion. He did not even attempt to bring me to orgasm in any way. He did not penetrate me at all, which was a keystone of what our shared experience was supposed to include. He did not offer or perform oral, and only stimulated me manually in a way that was more about him than me (think each hand stimulating a different woman in the same way—and I never got the dominant hand). Our third was awesome, with great communication that put us at ease. My guy had penetrative sex with her three times, and manually stimulated her to orgasm many times over. Then he came, which surprised me. Things were so hot with them, and so hot to watch! He has practiced and trained orgasm control and told me after that he decided not to hold back.
So there I am, still anticipating what I envision as “my turn” when I realize that turn isn’t happening. Once I gathered my thoughts, I asked him: When did the plans change, and why did he not communicate that with me? I feel utterly rejected. He is a self-identified “germaphobe,” and I don’t know if he’s throwing that out there as a red herring, but he said her vulva smelled “off” (my first time up close with a vulva that’s not my own, and while different than mine, it seemed normal), and he said he wanted no “cross-contamination” between her natural juices and mine—left hand was for me, right hand for her, and no moving from her to me because while he wore a condom with her (we don’t use), he didn’t want her natural juices from the base of his penis being transferred into me. A red herring, I suggest, because I was stimulating her manually and orally myself. Now he is saying: “I didn’t even want to do this because I thought something like this would happen,” insinuating that I am having a jealousy response to his intimacy with her. Totally not the case! It was hot and part of the plan.
I don’t know what happened, where things went wrong, or what to think. We had so much detailed communication and discussion for so long, I felt that we were prepared. We discussed boundaries, rules, active consent, stopping at any time for any reason, etc. The only thing I didn’t anticipate was not getting screwed by my own partner at our own threesome! Please, help me with next steps. It was a silent five-and-a-half-hour drive home, and I’m ready to walk away. I am taking his actions to be selfish and not prioritizing me.
—F’ed By My Own Threesome
Ferreting out your boyfriend’s motivation for ignoring you is a challenge. He may have participated in all the pre-threesome planning that you did as a ruse to create a scenario in which he could experience sex with another person alongside you, with no plans to actually honor your discussion. On the other end of the spectrum, maybe he got caught up in the moment and did what felt right, figuring he’d explain it away later. One scenario is premeditated, the other is not, but both are shitty and need rectifying beyond the yarn he spun for you, which managed to be both over-reasoned and illogical. A threesome is no place for a germaphobe who is concerned with cross-contamination. That makes about as much sense as a claustrophobe cruising for sex in a crawlspace. Even the most barriered scenarios still pose some risk, something your boyfriend acknowledged re: the transference of “natural juices” from his penis base. Unless he developed his phobia during the act, he had plenty of time to consider this. Unless you overlooked whatever wariness he expressed in the conversations leading up to your threesome, something doesn’t smell right here, and it’s not your third’s vagina.
He should have prioritized you. Even if you want to allow that he was all wrapped up in this new thing (in this case, a person) in front of him and that caused him to lose his focus in the process, like a kid with a new toy, you’re the one he went home with. It was irresponsible and insensitive to abandon the plan, and his explanation for doing so is intellectually insulting. I would have a calm, what-gives conversation with him to the tune of: “You going off script was confusing and alienating, and your explanation for doing so was insufficient. What really happened?” If you are indeed at the end of your rope, then say that. Knowing the stakes might provoke a more honest response from him. We all have our own limits for what we forgive in our partners and the altered state the sex can produce on the brain should be part of that calculus. But in the sober light of day outside of the bedroom, there’s no excuse for bullshit if you’ve done something wrong. It’s his doubling down that troubles me the most here. Don’t let him get away with it.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 24-year-old bisexual man. I’m on the spectrum. I was a late bloomer and really didn’t have much interest in sex or even porn until recently, so although I hook up pretty regularly, I don’t have much experience. My question is, how the hell do people expect me to react when they compliment my size?
I know this sounds like a humblebrag, but I am pretty well-endowed. Both men and women comment on it once we get into the bedroom. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to say. “Thanks” feels weird. I didn’t do anything to get this. It honestly is embarrassing and a little weird when people comment on it. It’s like … OK? It’s not an achievement.
Recently I said “cool,” and the guy accused me of thinking I’m hot shit. He was rough with me afterward in an attempt to put me in my place, which I wasn’t OK with and I had him leave. I don’t think I’m hot shit or intend to convey this. If he had complimented something I did put effort into, like my hair or body, I would feel comfortable saying thanks. But he didn’t. I can have difficulty responding appropriately in my professional and social life and I don’t like that this is now occurring in my sex life as well. Should I just tell people I’m not OK with this kind of compliment? Can I just say nothing?
Dear Big Guy,
Your logic is sound—it is kind of silly to take credit for something that you had no part in creating, even if it’s on your own body. But we live in a culture that elevates people by virtue of their natural gifts. It might not make strict sense for Jennifer Lopez to take pride in her facial symmetry, or for Celine Dion to take some credit for her voice, but they are both literally and effectively (given their cultural stature) complimented for these things all the time and they accept these compliments with grace. Yet compliments rarely take into full account how little an accomplished person had to do with their good fortune. And still, “thank you” suffices as a response. It’s a shorthand for acknowledging the acknowledgment you just received, a way of being nice back after someone says something nice. Even in vagueness, it tends to mean more than, “I take full credit for this thing that you are justifiably complimenting.”
The guy that got rough with you was wrong to do so, and it sounds like you handled that situation well. Still more people might be put off with your response of “cool,” though, so just say “thanks.” It may save you hassle, especially during a time when philosophizing and interrogation isn’t generally welcome. You don’t really want to Curb Your Enthusiasm your way through sex, right? You may know that “thanks” isn’t entirely representative of your response to such a compliment. You may think it’s silly to do this. But even sillier is having your rightness held against you or misinterpreted. Many partners might find hot if you owned it even, saying something like, “I’m glad you like it.” You are glad about that, right? It’s cool to have something that people admire and get turned on by reflexively, right? Don’t obstruct that enjoyment by getting in the weeds with what we’re allowed to claim credit for. It’s your dick. You can be proud of it. Even if you aren’t, acting like you are will likely be much sexier to people.
Dear How to Do It,
This is a very low-stakes question, but I was hoping you could help me answer it. My boyfriend and I love having threesomes, foursomes, gangbangs, any kind of group sex really. We never have sex with other people unless we are both present and enjoying ourselves. Where does this fall on the monogamy/non-monogamy scale? I think that because we’re not having sex without the other there it classifies as monogamy, he thinks it’s non-monogamy. I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts?
—What’s in a Monogamy
Dear What’s in a Monogamy,
I tend to think of “monogamy” as a pure classification, so much so that any deviation is an immediate disqualifier. That “mono” is really hard to get around. Monogamy tends to refer to the practice of having one partner (at a time)—in life and in bed.
If we’re going to be strict about this and honor the fact that words do have meaning, there are then two broad categorizations that virtually every relationship can be filed within: monogamous and everything else. The strict definition of monogamy simply does not apply to you, especially because you’re actively pursuing group sex (dipping your toe in once or twice does not necessarily qualify you for your poly certificate). There’s no evidence in your letter that you identify as swingers or are active within the lifestyle, but your interests are certainly swinger-adjacent, and there is a reason why swingers (who typically pursue sex but not romantic relationships outside of their marriages) are included in broader analyses of nonmonogamy, such as Tristan Taormino’s book Opening Up. It’s part of the continuum of nonmonogamy. (And, to be clear, plenty of swingers have the same kinds of only-play-together rules in place that you and your boyfriend adhere to.)
So I agree with your man here. Things seem firmly nonmonogamous to me—more arguable would be whether a couple like you two would qualify as having an open relationship given the pretty rigid (and, uh, closed) nature of your arrangement. You’re definitely in the gray area between monogamy and, say, polyamory, but any relationship that deviates from the strictures of monogamy is. These gray areas are common in virtually every facet of life, and illustrate the limitations of labels. My thing is: If a word doesn’t describe what you are, take a sentence. If that doesn’t work, write a paragraph. Or an essay. Or a book. (Surely, people with less interesting sex lives have written those!) It does seem like if you need a word, Dan Savage’s “monogamish” could work for you, as it conveys your unity and togetherness, as well as the spice that flavors your particular arrangement.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman in my mid-30s. My spouse and I opened our marriage this year, and I was excited to explore new romantic/sexual connections. Unfortunately, I haven’t had sex with anyone yet because I recently found out that I may have genital herpes.
A few months ago, I had my first cold sore and that day—before I was even aware of the sore—I touched my mouth, then my vagina. About a week later, I started experiencing itching and prickling in random spots all over my pubic/genital area. This went on for about nine weeks(!) but was very mild and I never developed any sores.
One infectious disease specialist is convinced this is herpes and prescribed daily Valtrex, which I’ve been taking. Another said it couldn’t be herpes because only immunocompromised people get outbreaks in more than one part of their body when they only have one type of HSV (a blood test confirmed I’m positive for type 1, but not 2). The herpes culture and PCR tests were negative, although I understand they aren’t totally reliable. We also did a bunch of STI and bacterial tests. Only a fungal test was positive, but the doctor said that meant a yeast infection, which didn’t seem to explain my symptoms. Is there some way to know for sure if I have genital HSV-1?
The main thing stressing me out is, what do I say to potential sexual partners—if anything? The doctor that diagnosed herpes said that she wouldn’t bother disclosing type 1 genital herpes because it poses the same risk as type 1 oral herpes with oral sex and people don’t generally expect disclosure for that. As you’ve noted, people don’t even typically use barrier methods for oral sex, so it does seem like they’re willing to accept the risk. But I suspect that if I disclose my (possible) genital herpes, I’ll get rejected because of the stigma. So not disclosing seems logical to me, but not being forthright feels wrong.
Dear Disclosure Closure,
There are already a few cooks in your herpes kitchen, but I’ve called in another for some perspective. To help answer your question, I once again tapped herpes expert Anna Wald, a doctor and professor of medicine and epidemiology at University of Washington School of Medicine. Given your description, she told me in an email that she is not convinced that you have genital herpes. “We do not see people transmitting established oral HSV-1 to the genital area—so I think that is unlikely,” Wald wrote, noting that people don’t tend to transfer oral HSV-1 to their own genitals. “And in primary infection, the PCR should have been positive, if she had it when she had the lesions.”
Also, a heads-up: Wald pointed out that you may have had oral herpes for longer than you’ve known. “If she was already seropositive for HSV-1, then this was not new acquisition but the first recognized oral HSV-1, because it takes a while to make antibodies for HSV. So if you already have antibodies when you present, it is unlikely to be new infection,” she wrote.
Since whatever you had going on in your genitals was unlikely to be HSV-1, perhaps this eradicates (or at least lessens) your disclosure concerns. Nonetheless, the question does remain whether you should disclose your oral HSV-1, which has been established and presented in the form of a cold sore. It is true that oral herpes is common and that the amount of barrier-free oral sex people have is a tacit acceptance of that risk. (Also the notion of “risk” here is complicated by herpes’ inflated profile as a boogeyman versus its relatively mild and intermittent symptoms for many who carry it.) It seems unfair that you should stigmatize yourself over a virus that many people have and that doesn’t affect their quality of life, though strictly speaking, disclosure of any active infection is ethical behavior. Still, even a herpes expert such as Wald is unclear on the right move. “Transmission from genital HSV-1 is unusual, because genital HSV-1 does not reactivate very often,” she wrote. “In contrast, oral HSV-1 does reactivate and is the most common cause of genital HSV-1 in partners. So the relevant question for this person is whether she should be disclosing that she has oral HSV-1 to new partners? I don’t know the answer—there is not consensus on this.” Some things that may put your mind at ease should you decide not to disclose: You can reduce transmission risk by taking the valacyclovir you’ve been prescribed and by abstaining from sex and kissing during outbreaks, when risk of transmission is highest (though, of course, herpes can be transmitted even when symptoms aren’t present). Good luck!
More How to Do It
I have a predicament with my boyfriend. We’ve been together for a few years, and from early in our relationship, he would often make sexual advances while asleep. As far as I can tell, he genuinely cannot remember anything the next morning, and while it’s always a little surprising on my end (I’m usually asleep beforehand, too), it’s never risen to anything near forcible. But a couple things he’s done while in this state were startling—and make me afraid he’s showing me who he really is.